by A.B. Yehoshua, translated by Philip Simpson
Doubleday, 352 pp., $10.00
Haifa at the opening of the Yom Kippur war. A prospering, blond-bearded, lonely garage owner discovers that his coldly hysterical schoolteacher wife has a lover, and that the lover has disappeared into the first confusion of the war. The army has no record of him. The husband sets out to find the lover and restore him to the wife.
The lover is the shuffling, easily confused descendant of an old Sephardic Jerusalem family, is not happy in Israel, and has returned from Paris only to claim an inheritance; his grandmother is supposed to be dying. The uneducated husband does not feel snubbed by a relationship between wife and lover founded on a cultural piety for French; in his tow truck he roams Israel looking for the lover’s 1947 blue Morris because he wants to re-establish some connections in his sleepless family and frightened land. The “War of Atonement,” as some Israelis now bitterly call it, revealed as part of the national vulnerability so much friction and anxiety that the husband, already troubled by his adolescent daughter’s fear for the family, seems more interested in getting the lover to calm the wife down than he is in claiming the wife for himself.
Missing connections, family anomie, and breakup inadmissable to Jewish piety and Israeli solidarity (but of course not exclusive of endless family discussions) are the favorite themes of the delicate and ironic young Israeli novelist Avraham Yehoshua. In two books of stories, Three Days and a Child and Early in the Summer of 1970, Yehoshua brought to his stories of alienation and antagonism within the Israeli family such fine political shading that I am not surprised to find in the comic situation of The Lover, his first novel, a parallel comedy of Arab-Jewish distrust that does not shirk the ferocity that grows every month. Through the eyes both of a fifteen-year-old Arab working in the husband’s garage and of the lover’s ninety-year-old grandmother (the busy husband gets so pent-up looking for the lover that he has the boy also looking after the old lady) we see an Arab and an Israeli locked into a debate of proximity, alikeness, mental hatred, a debate that Yehoshua’s superb ability to render both presences relieves of all sentimentality.
Tightening brakes all the time. Lying underneath the cars and shouting to the Jews, “Press, let go, harder, ease off, slowly, press.” The Jews do exactly what I tell them….
They’re talking about war again and the radio’s buzzing all the time. We start listening to what the Jews are saying about themselves, all that wailing and cursing themselves, it pleases us no end. It’s nice to hear how screwed up and stupid they are and how hard things are for them, though you wouldn’t exactly think so seeing them changing their cars all the time and buying newer and bigger ones.
He’s always in a good mood, this Arab, quite content, whistling a tune, pleased …